Matches like Thursday’s are why Cole Bassett deferred the dream.
Colorado Rapids, the local club the Littleton native joined as a youth, hosts Portland Timbers in a second-round playoff game Thursday. It’s the first MLS game on Thanksgiving, and the 2:30 p.m. start on Fox pits it against the traditional NFL games.
“They’re an excellent team,” Rapids coach Robin Fraser, a finalist for Major League Soccer’s Coach of the Year award, said Tuesday of Portland. “They have very good experienced and mature players all over the field, which makes them a constant threat at all times. We know that some guys – (Sebastian) Blanco, in particular – has been incredibly dangerous all year long.”
Had Bassett jumped at the chance to chase the dream, playing professionally in Europe, he wouldn’t be available for Fraser’s squad Thursday. The Rapids and decorated Portuguese club SL Benfica agreed to a transfer for the midfielder. According to a report from mlssoccer.com, that deal would have broken the club record for largest transfer fee, which was set earlier this season when Colorado Springs native and fellow Rapids academy product Sam Vines moved to Belgian side Antwerp on a deal worth up to a reported $ 2 million. Bassett declined the move. Benfica reportedly wanted Bassett to start his European career with its reserve sides, but Bassett also said chasing a championship with his hometown club was a big part of the decision.
“I did turn it down. I think the reason why I did is for this night right now,” the 20-year-old said Nov. 7 after the Rapids beat LAFC, 5-2, on the final day of the regular season to finish atop the Western Conference and earn a first-round bye.
“There still, technically, is no trophy, and that’s what I wanted to stay for. We know that we’ve still got to go out and try to win the west and then, hopefully, win MLS Cup as well.”
Bassett, who’s appeared on MLS’s 22 Under 22 list the last three years, showcased his potential in scoring the Rapids’ fourth goal on Decision Day. He carried the ball into LAFC’s defensive third and played a pass wide to Michael Barrios on the left. Barrios gave it right back, and Bassett got the goal after shedding a couple of defenders with a quick feint and a well-placed shot into the side netting.
“He’s someone who always, always, always has an eye on goals and assists. It was great for him to be able to get one tonight,” Fraser said after the regular-season finale.
“I love the effort and the work rate that Cole put in tonight. The shift that he put in was very, very good.”
After being a regular starter at the beginning of the season, Bassett entered five of the team’s final eight matches as a substitute. Part of a midfield that included captain Jack Price, United States Men’s National Team member Kellyn Acosta and Canadian national-teamer Mark-Anthony Kaye to end the season, Bassett said he was coming off the bench more than he would like late in the season, but he appeared in all but one match of Colorado’s historic campaign, recording five goals and four assists in 2,209 minutes. Both Fraser and Bassett mentioned he would have a few more goals to his name, and possibly a higher profile, if the woodwork was a bit more friendly.
“For me, it’s been so unlucky this whole year, hitting so many posts, missing so may clear chances. That’s one of the things that I take pride in,” Bassett said. “I mean, I think if I hit all those, maybe they’re talking a little bit differently this year.”
The Rapids’ playoff run – which starts against a Portland team that beat Minnesota United, 3-1, on Sunday to advance – will give Bassett another chance to reframe the narrative before potentially making his dream move when the European transfer window opens again in the winter. Bassett hopes to help the Rapids add a second star to their shirt before a potentially big transfer.
“A lot of people know I do want to go to Europe, but there’s a reason why I stayed this year. Even though it’s been a little bit of a different second half of the year for me ever since the transfer window has went down, there’s a reason why I stayed, and that’s because I know this team can win, and we showed it tonight,” Bassett said after the Rapids finished atop the Western Conference for the first time in club history.
“This is the whole reason why.”